While I was home in Ireland for Christmas, I went on a date at a bouldering gym and promptly broke my ankle. It was probably inadvisable to attempt rockclimbing so early in January, with my body still weighed down by excessive pints and pudding, but the pursuit of romance makes us all do idiotic things.
The X-ray confirmed that I had a fracture and would be required to wear a moon boot for five weeks. I live in Berlin, up four flights of stairs with no elevator, so I decided it would be best to stay in Ireland until I could take the boot off. My parents’ house only has one flight of stairs and infinitely more cheese in the fridge.
I explained the situation to my manager in Germany and he agreed to let me extend my time at home and work remotely. Secretly, I was a little bit thrilled. I hadn’t had an excuse to be in Ireland for an extended stint since I’d emigrated five years previously. I wanted to make the most of it.
Each day, I hobbled on to a bus into Dublin’s city centre. I worked from lovely cafes such as Simon’s Place and drank tea in familiar wood-panelled pubs. I met old friends, and made new friends, and revelled in the wit and charm and talent of Irish people. It was such a joy to be surrounded by them again.
‘I can’t believe we’re living here’: Historic Wexford cottage that was at risk of falling into decline is restored
[ I don’t want to be the guy who went abroad and realised everything is wrong with Ireland ]
I accompanied my friend Rob to work on his album in a studio overlooking Carlingford Lough and sat, leg elevated, chopping vegetables to feed the band. I went to visit pals who run the Big Style Atlantic Lodge in Mayo and sweated out toxins in their stunning sauna with views of Achill Island. The next day, they carefully carried me and my limping leg into the Atlantic so I could splash about like an injured seal.
When it finally came time to return to Germany, I felt blue. I didn’t want to go. Over the course of my stay, people had asked if I would consider moving back to Ireland. My response was always the same: I can’t afford to.
In Berlin, I’m able to live by myself in a small but comfortable apartment in the centre of everything. My rental contract is so secure that I can’t be evicted, even if my landlord sells. The next owner is obliged to take me on with the apartment, like the U2 album that came pre-downloaded on every iPhone in 2014. This means I’m able to have secure accommodation, save some money each month, and still have enough disposable income to enjoy my life.
I am turning 30 this year. I would like to have enough stability to be able to have a baby in the future, if that’s the path I choose. I’ve been in full-time employment since I moved here and have put aside some savings, but I’m still completely priced out of home ownership in Dublin. A return would mean re-entering an extortionate and catastrophically unregulated rental market, which consistently puts profit before people.
[ 'Moving to Berlin was one of the best decisions I’ve made' ]
Berlin makes sense. My head can see that very clearly. It’s just my heart that’s making a fuss.
I think there’s a perception that Irish emigrants are swanning around European squares, or Australian beaches, or Canadian cities, feeling deeply smug. That we experience better infrastructure, or opportunities, or housing, or healthcare, and never look back. But many of us yearn to return home and wish we didn’t have to face such difficult decisions about what we would be prepared to sacrifice to do so.
I’m back in Berlin now. It’s March, but spring is nowhere to be seen. Yesterday, I walked through sheets of sleet to Tempelhof, an abandoned airport that has been turned into a city park. I stared out across the vast runways and realised that, if I squinted, I could almost experience the same sense of infinite horizons I get when looking out across the sea at home. Almost.
My ankle, I’m pleased to say, has healed. But the rest of me is still feeling pretty fractured.
Aoife Leonard has lived in Berlin since 2017. She moved there as “it was already becoming difficult to find housing in Dublin.” She is a brand manager at an education start-up.
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